Getting real about refugees


A new think tank report speculates that up to two million migrants may make their way to Britain in the next ten years. The accuracy of these predictions, is disputed but migrants and race have become a key political issue – dividing political parties and whole societies.

There are two ways of tackling the vast movement of refugees; either by whipping up hysteria and simply addressing the symptoms or by tackling the causes at source.

Four years ago I took the Government to task over their introduction of vouchers for migrants and their dispersal policy – both of which have been an abject failure and are now abandoned. The latest mixture of detention centres and other punitive measures are also geared to dealing with the symptoms rather than the causes.

Many refugees leave their native countries because of the intolerable conditions there and until we tackle the causes of conflict and upheaval there will continue to be a flood tide of human misery.

Government could make a start by appointing a permanent ambassador with a mandate to tackle conflict resolution. If as much time was spent promoting the building of civil societies as is spent forcing developing nations to introduce population control measures – so called “reproductive health” – we might get somewhere.

A few weeks ago I visited refugee camps in the Caucuses, in Azerbaijan. These are the latest casualties in the unresolved conflict with Armenia.

In its refugees camps are all the necessary components for future instability and unrest. Unless a settlement is reached these festering squalid conditions will be a breeding ground for tomorrow’s Islamic militants and terrorists. When people have nothing to lose they can sink into the desperation that creates suicide bombers and revolutionary insurgents. Failure to resolve conflict also creates countless migrants.

Azerbaijan’s President, Haider Aliyev, told me that “there is no more urgent issue” facing his country.

Without a just solution the families of people like Madat Mamadov will continue to suffer. Their camp, 250 km south west of Baku, near the Iranian border was recently flooded. The floors of their squalid hut have been turned to mud. Three to four people occupy one room. They have no privacy and no sanitation.

Their neighbour, Kama Rustamova, shares her hut with eight other people, an 82-year-old father, four sons and three daughters. The deluge destroyed their food and their pitiful dwelling is full of hazards to health.

For the fathers of these children there is the never ending search for work. They can become emigrants who doubtless end up at many of our ports of entry, to be classed as economic migrants and refused admission. This leads to twilight jobs that frequently turn people with illegal status into fully fledged criminals.

Sometimes the men stay in the camp. They go to the nearest railway station where there is a “slave bazaar” and sometimes they can get work as porters or construction workers at $2.5 a day. Can you blame them for wanting to get away from this?

Tackle this conflict, and situations like it, and then there will be halt to the mass movement of migrants. That’s getting real about refugees.